Additive Manufacturing: How 3D Printing Saves Lives

by Julie S. on October 16, 2015

Additive Manufacturing--How 3D Printing Saves Lives3D printing is one of the hottest topics in the tech space now, but did you know it is saving lives? Professors from the University of Michigan created a 3D-printed lung split that was used in 2011 to save the life of a six-week-old infant with severe tracheobronchomalacia, a rare disease of the central airways. When the infant’s trachea and left bronchus collapsed, preventing crucial airflow from reaching his lungs, the child underwent a tracheostomy and was put on a ventilator—only it didn’t work.

At the time, only a prototype of the 3D-printed device existed. The doctors obtained emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration. A CT scan of the trachea and bronchus was used to design the device. With computer modeling software, doctors created a splint that perfectly matched the child’s windpipe and printed it with a biodegradable polyester called polycaprolactone.

The splint envelopes the outside of the bronchus. Sutures pass through the splint to tether the trachea, which expands the bronchus and inflates the trachea. The splint opens with growth and will dissolve within three years. While it may sound like science fiction, this successful procedure is paving the way for advances in dissolvable devices printed for medical use and surgical reconstruction.

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